The days of free-wheeling rock radio in St. Louis are history, but many of those who participated enjoy looking back and remembering. Peter Skye recently took time to reminisce.
Things started out innocently enough. Skye came to St. Louis from the New York area to study Applied Mathematics at Washington University. On an impulse visit to campus radio station KFRH he and his roommate student John Gilbert decided it might be fun to be disc jockeys. The carrier current station could only be heard around the campus, but that didn’t matter. Station manager Phil Steinberg, himself a student, put them on the air. The pair was bitten by the radio bug.
“Things were really loose in those days,” Skye says. “We hopped around and stopped in and saw all the local stations. They’d all let us come in and watch. Nick Charles was the all-night guy at KXOK. John and I used to go over there and bug him. The studio at the time was in an old house. Big studio as far as radio goes.
“Dave Scott was the program director out at KIRL in St. Charles. It was a Top 40 station with three towers with a banana-type signal pattern that got them into St. Louis. I visited it once and was fascinated by his cart machine system. When one tape cartridge finished playing it would automatically trip-start the next one.”
Fast forward to a cinder block shack in Crestwood. A guy named Ron Elz is making some changes at a radio station called KSHE, and Gilbert and Skye are disc jockeys on a big time commercial FM station. John Gilbert has become John Roberts, and the atmosphere of the station and chemistry with the listeners are the stuff dreams are made of. “Elz instinctively knew all about demographics and the business side of radio, and that’s what helped make KSHE a success as the market’s “underground” radio station from the beginning. He personally took both KSHE and KADI-FM to rock. When Elz changed KADI to Top 40, he had me generate the playlists by computer. I wrote the computer programs to do this while I was still a student and got a full class credit at Washington University for the effort. Boy, did the announcers complain. They hated having to follow the lists,” Skye says.
There had been some sort of disagreement at KSHE that caused Elz to leave for KADI. He suggested to management that John Roberts be named his successor as program director. Ron Lipe was there, variously known as “Ron Brothers” and “Prince Knight.” So was Bob Skaggs, whose air name was “Jack Davis.” In Skye’s words, “The program director had his hands full.”
At KADI-FM, owner Richard Miller offered Skye an airshift, which Skye accepted. “This is Peter Skye, your curly headed kid in the third row, on the KADI Original Oldies Show!” He served as chief engineer and did morning drive Tuesday through Friday. Sam Kaiser did the morning show on Mondays so Skye could sleep in after the late Sunday oldies show. “Rich Dalton, with whom I worked at KADI, was an extraordinary person. He cared more about the audience than any other jock I’ve worked with. That is his secret: His caring comes through on his show and everyone senses it.”
Programming the oldies show was a challenge. The station’s music library wasn’t varied enough to support a show like his, but a solution came in the form of another announcer at the station, Joe Edwards. Skye remembers: “Joe supplied all the records for the oldies show. I still have the book he published based on the Billboard charts. Joe was the nicest guy I ever worked with. I hold him in the highest regard.”
“On Sunday, September 23, 1973, one of the news teletype machines in the KADI building on Bomparte caught fire (a bad bearing in the motor according to the fire marshal) which lit the varnished wall paneling which then came up the stairs. John Killian, who had been ‘Johnny K.’ on KXOK, was on the air at the time. The whole building burned – a six-alarm fire. I owned and drove the KADI Car, my fastback yellow Mustang with KADI plastered all over it, and was up in North County dropping off my date when I heard the station go off the air. I hit the flashers and came in at 90 miles per hour. Fire trucks everywhere.”
“A policeman stopped me at the driveway entrance and I rolled down the window and yelled ‘I’m the chief engineer’ and he waved me through. I went into the building with the first firefighters because, without windows and with lots of rooms, they weren’t sure what they would find. Two firemen were on the roof and it gave way, dumping them into the building. They were brought out and an ambulance came full-tilt-boogie across the open field in reverse (the driveway was full of fire trucks) and the driver didn’t notice the guy wires supporting the big 385’ antenna. He hit one and the back of the ambulance rode up the wire until the wheels were off the ground. Several guys had to push it off. Wow, that tower shook!”
Skye was also a jock on KSLQ working for program director Gary Bridges in 1974. “It was funny getting calls from girls who had listened to me at KADI and KSHE wondering what I was doing at Top 40 KSLQ! Mike ‘The Red Baron’ Jeffries was a jock at the Q back then. He was probably the most energetic announcer I’ve ever worked with. His upbeat style was truly infectious.” The job was short-lived, with Peter Skye heading west to try his hand at a different side of the business. He can now be found in Hollywood, where, among other jobs, he worked for 14 years helping Casey Kasem produce “American Top 40.”
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 5/02)